A lot of educated observers believe that a world water crisis is unavoidable, but not everyone believes water to grow the food needed by 9 billion people in 2050 has to be the major limiting factor.
“We firmly believe that the developing water crisis is not so much one of scarcity of water as it is one of management and government. And this is an important assumption that the amount of fresh water on earth is sufficient to feed a growing population and feeding it better, and that is only going to happen if we govern and manage our resources more effectively,” said Mogens Bay, chairman and chief executive officer of Valmont Industries, Inc., Omaha, Neb.
Mogens and Bob Meaney, senior vice-president at Valmont Industries, Inc., provided their point of view in a presentation in mid-February as part of the E.N. Thompson Forum lecture series of “Water and Global Security” on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
MORE CROP PER DROP
More land with water availability can be put into production, but mainly, current farmed land can be much more productive in the future. Meaney said the goal has to be “more crop per drop for the future,” even though irrigated crop production has already become much more efficient in recent years. The 18 percent of farmland that is irrigated produces about 40 percent of the crops.
“There was a great expansion of irrigation around the world during the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1960, world population grew by 3.5 times, but water withdrawals multiplied by six times. Those types of withdrawals cannot occur in the future.
“There is a need for policies at the local level to remediate and prevent damage from improper irrigation methods. Best practices need to be implemented to simultaneously raise production and assure the sustainable use of land and water,” Meaney said.
Only 3 percent of the water on earth is fresh and two-thirds of that water is in the polar ice caps. We are fortunate, Meaney explained, that water recycles and isn’t used and gone forever. “Fresh water infinitely follows a cycle. It evaporates from the sea, falls as rain onto crops and into watersheds; it seeps into groundwater and runs in streams supporting the ecology of the planet,” he said.
Each country has its own policies and strategies to insure their local food security based on how much water is available and volume of food needed, and the local approach isn’t going to assure that water is used wisely to feed the total future world population.
FREE ENTERPRISE REQUIRED
Mogens contends that free enterprise working with governments can accomplish what is needed to avoid a water crisis. Higher prices for agricultural crops can drive innovation at the farmer level (large and small farms) and also by agricultural manufacturers and technology suppliers who will share in the economic positives.
He said, “The global scale of this complex issue makes us believe that only a free market modulated for protection of the world’s poorest can get us where we need to be by 2050.”
Meaney said, “Much is being done and yet to be done in governance and policy. Every region and watershed needs to develop water governance that allows agriculture to thrive within the limits of sustainability.”
Requirements to grow enough food with available water includes public investment for infrastructure, private enterprise technology development, large capital investment in production projects and, perhaps as important as any of the others, global free trade.
Mogens said, “The solutions must be implemented at a very local level, and they must take care of the poor. But they (solutions) will work only if we have very good cooperation across borders and between institutions and include private industry. And we have to have the resolve appropriate for this important mission.”